The BBC accompanied Synth Britannia with another “synthpop” programme, succinctly entitled Synth at the BBC. It was a welcome extra, but was the sort of show that soothed rather than informed, being (no doubt deliberately) undemanding of the viewer’s attention.
Whereas Synth Britannia had enough breadth of coverage to include some of the more experimental synthesiser acts, Synth at the BBC was a more sedate business which, alas, cumulatively illustrated the perennial paucity of BBC coverage of music which couldn’t be shown at teatime.
The programme got off to a rough start with a clip of Roxy Music performing ‘Do the Strand’. It was a “classic” clip, yes – but could you hear Eno’s synth? Ah, you could make it out here and there and yes, quite clearly in the closing few seconds. But was it synthpop? No, of course it wasn’t.
The remaining clips offered little that hadn’t been trotted out on a number of previous occasions (‘Are Friends Electric’ from ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ again?) and the slightly less familiar material wasn’t visually exciting from a 21st-century perspective (nice though it was to see Sparks included for a change). It would, however, be churlish to criticise the programme too harshly for having limited material to draw upon, given that the BBC archives must be pretty low on suitable fodder. It is, however, far past time that the BBC came up with a rather more exciting form of presentation for such on-the-cheap compilations: it was one of those shows which had no presenter, no narrator and no interviews to link the clips but which instead relied upon occasional text boxes being shown at the bottom of the screen. No doubt these are intended to be unobtrusive and gently humorous: in practice, in this case as in so many others, the comments were trite and cynical rather than illuminating or witty. It’s time this decrepit format were junked for something a little more modern. Speaking of which, how about some coverage of contemporary, forward-facing (i.e. not “retro”) electronic acts on BBC TV?